Last year’s Danforth Street attack in Toronto just got a whole lot stranger – and murkier

Last July 22 I was in Toronto on the waterfront giving a presentation to an audience on extremism. I don’t quite recall who they were but it might have been a group that does Ontario Legislature security. My talk was well received and I even got to sell a few of my books – so bonus!

July 22 was also the day when Faisal Hussain went on a shooting spree on the Danforth, killing two and wounding 13. As an aside, what is it with my visits to Toronto and violent/terrorist attacks? I was talking to Toronto Police Services (TPS) on October 22 , 2014, the day Michael Zehaf-Bibeau attacked the National Cenotaph and stormed Parliament in Ottawa. A good conspiracy theorist could make the case that me, Toronto and terrorism are all linked together.

Speaking of conspiracy theories, police investigating the 22 July shootings have made some very interesting discoveries in going through Mr. Hussain’s stuff. In addition to a whole arsenal of weapons (two fully loaded AK-47 magazines, two fully loaded 9mm handgun magazines, two loaded drum magazines and three fully loaded extended magazines, as well as additional shotgun ammunition) – the police is very keen to learn just how he got hold of all this firepower – they found a collection of conspiracy theory DVDs in his bedroom (including titles by right-wing conspiracy theorist and American radio host Alex Jones, who has been banned from multiple social-media platforms). Many of them were about the 9/11 terror attacks and the Iraq war.

This is indeed odd. Recall that there was a lot of immediate speculation that Mr. Hussain was a jihadi terrorist and that this was clearly yet another ‘lone wolf terrorist incident”. Feeding that theory, Islamic State claimed Mr. Hussain as one of their own .

So where are we now? Was Mr. Hussain a member of IS or one of those IS-inspired guys? Was this then a terrorist attack? It is far too early to make that call. I do not see a lot to enable us to definitively call this an IS plot and there are a few things that weigh in against it. When I used to work at CSIS we saw jihadis consume all kinds of material online, mostly religious sites that exhorted jihad, actual Web sites run by Islamist terrorist groups and, truth be told, a lot of porn. Conspiracy sites did appear occasionally if memory serves me correct. It strikes me as odd though that an Islamist extremist would be interested in 9/11 conspiracy theories (it was the Jews/CIA/black helicopters/aliens!) because real Islamist extremists see that attack as the pinnacle of their existence. Why would a true believer want to take away from that? The same goes for the Iraq War: after all, that fateful US decision led directly to the creation of IS. Why would an IS wannabe buy into other accounts, thus bleeding the raison d’etre of the group?

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: never say never. This killing does not yet appear to be a real terrorist attack, let alone an IS one, but I am open to other considerations if and when more information comes forward. Mr. Hussain did have other ‘issues’, any one of which could ‘explain’ what he did. Then again, we may never really know for sure, which I am certain will feed future conspiracy theorists (RCMP/TPS covering up real reasons for Danforth shooting! PM Trudeau gave secret orders for attack!).

I’d like to end with what I see as an excellent quote from the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum on why the killer of Poland’s Gdansk mayor did what he did. I think it backs up my points nicely:

I’ve written before that it is impossible to pick apart the strands of psychopathy, irrationality, fanaticism, cold calculation and ideology that go into a political murder. Each case is different; the “causes” are always multiple. But it is also not possible to separate these crimes from the environment in which they take place. Madmen choose their targets based on what they read and hear. Why would they not?

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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